The juxtaposition of crowded academic and social calendars at this time of year always makes me a bit grumpy. I try to contain (or hide) my scrooge-like sentiments, but I’m generally too tired to make that much of an effort, and consequently they pop out periodically. This year I am taking comfort in a book that I received from a thoughtful friend last year: The Twelve Terrors of Christmas, a 1993 collaboration between iconic illustrator Edward Gorey and John Updike. These terrors (a too heavily-laden Christmas tree, the threat of electrocution from all the electronic games under said tree, fears of not giving enough, not receiving enough, and returning all the stuff you did receive) are not quite my terrors (fatigue, rampant commercialism, over-consumption of food, drink, and stuff) but I like the overall sentiment, or lack thereof. And then there are the illustrations. “Christmas” and “Gorey” are not words that naturally go together, but he had tread that terrain previously–with a series of not-too-macabre Christmas cards for the Albondaconi Press and other publishers from the 1970s on–and the success of Terrors inspired a second holiday book: The Haunted Tea-Cosy. A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas Dispirited (1997), a parody of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. All very merry images, in that distinctly Gorey style.
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Architecture and Alphabets: two of my favorite things, together. I’ve been meaning to post some images from Jean Baptiste de Pian’s clever alphabet ever since I discovered it a year or so ago, but just never got to it. There’s already some images and admirers out there, but I’ll add more. The lithographs below, part of a series of 26, were actually created and colored by Leopold Müller in 1842 after paintings by Pian. The series is very rare and valuable: one set sold for over $32,000 at a Christies’ auction last year, and another is currently available at Bromer Booksellers for $65,000. Apparently a facsimile edition was published in 1973 but I can’t find it anywhere. As you can see in the images below (which I have taken from the Christies’ listing), the letters are not just affixed to the structures but rather an integral part of them.
As impressive as they are, Pian/Müller’s letters are not completely original conceptions: just a few years earlier the Italian artist and theater designer Antonio Basoli had published his own, predominately classical,architectural alphabet, Alfabeto Pittorico, comprised of 24 letters and an ampersand. Basoli’s Alphabet, as it came to be known, is rare today as well, though apparently not quite so rare as that which it might have inspired: it fetched $15,000 at the same 2013 Christies’ auction. Before Basoli, there was the plan-based architectural alphabet of the German architect Johann David Steingruber, published in 1773. Viewed individually, I don’t think Steingruber’s letters are as impressive as the more consolidated forms of Pian/Müller and Basoli, but collectively (as in this canvas by Ballard Designs from a few years back) they pack a punch.
Scans of Basoli & Steingruber at the venerable blog Giornale Nuovo, a feast of information and images.
The architectural alphabet looks like a seventeenth-century invention to me: a direct consequence of the rebirth of classicism and the emergence and development of the printing arts in the centuries before. But I think I’ll move up (back) to our own time, where the architectural alphabet still survives, indeed thrives! Two great examples: Federico Babino’s alphabet of architects, cleverly titled Archibet (he also builds an Archibet City), and the (less integrative but more whimsical) Architectural Alphabet of Andrew Zega and Bernd Dams.
I have quicksilver materialistic urges: what I want now are Monopoly pieces, or rather artistically-enhanced versions thereof. There is a Salem source of this desire, and it is a timely one: Parker Brothers of Salem acquired one of the key patents they needed to produce their version of Monopoly on this day in 1935, and it was an immediate blockbuster, perhaps (or in spite of) the ongoing Depression. Parker Brothers’ long residency in Salem (1883-1991) is no doubt due in large part to the success of this ultra-American game. It was apparently rushed into production even though Parker Brothers president George Parker had low expectations: a series of boxes from 1935 bear the inscriptions “patent applied for” and “patent pending”. Inside are wooden houses and hotels and the original dark-iron tokens: the iron, racing car, thimble, shoe, top hat and battleship (the Scottie dog and wheelbarrow were added in the early 1950s).
1935 Patent Pending Monopoly Box: Source.
And that’s the other reason why I’m craving Monopoly pieces now: my favorite token was always the iron, and it has recently been cast out of the game, replaced by a cat. I’m a cat lover as well, but the new token just doesn’t have the texture of that old iron: thankfully my Monopoly game is pretty vintage, and thus iron-clad. And when a little tiny metal token just won’t do, several artists have been inspired enough by the game–and its iconic pieces–to create bigger and bolder versions. I want all of these creations by Stuart Whitton, which are hand-drawn on vintage postcards, but I think they’re long gone.
Since I’m particularly fond of the retired iron, I did find a more attainable object: a pewteresque replica: not very subtle, and far less artistic, but BIG. But where to put it? It screams doorstop to me, but when I went in search of a place, I found not one, not two, but THREE old 19th century irons propped up against doors on my third floor. I don’t think I need one more, even if it has an air of Monopoly about it.
The acquisitive instinct in me has been kicking in lately, which I think is a good thing. I’ve been working very hard for the past year or so, and focusing on more material things gives my mind a rest. It’s really all about the search: I don’t have to buy, I can just look (really)! Looking around, I get little short-lived obsessions, and right now I’m very focused on the creations of the prolific artistic partnership of Kahn/Selesnick, whose work spans decades and genres and explores a myriad of alternative historical and futuristic themes in ways that are both conceptually and visually panoramic. Be prepared to be submerged into other worlds if you check out their website or those of any of the galleries that showcase their work, most of which is way beyond my ability to acquire except, perhaps, for a few of their Green Men. When I was browsing around the online shop of the Morbid Anatomy Museum (which has quite an eclectic collection, let me assure you), I became immediately fixated on the Kahn/Selesnick calendar plates, which feature a different Green Man for each month, and then I was off on a mission in search of more.
I think I can swing one or two plates (of course I want them all) but the Green Man photographs are a bit too dear for me. I would love a few of the amazing hand-colored “souvenir” playing cards from Kahn & Selesnick’s Eisbergfreistadt (a fictitious independent city-state located on a Baltic iceberg in the 1920s) series, but they seem to be long sold out, so I suppose my only paper option is a seed pack designed by the dynamic duo for Hudson Valley Seed Library. I can frame it!
Kahn/ Selesnick “On a Flowering Path” and “The Green God” photographs @ the Carrie Haddad Gallery; Eisbergfreistadt playing cards at the Kahn/Selesnick online store; and sunflower seed pack at Hudson Valley Seed Library. More Green Men.
It’s back-to-school time and that mean I’m spending money: on myself. When I was a little girl, my elegant grandmother (still quite immaculately dressed at 101) would drive up from Massachusetts to Maine with a trunkful of dresses in late August or early September, and I would immediately run up to my room with all my loot, change into these beautiful frocks, and “treat” everyone to a fashion show. Many years later, I still think I deserve a back-to-school shopping spree every September, even though I’m a professor rather than a student (and I have to pay for it myself). I remain the clotheshorse/monster that my grandmother created, but this year I haven’t been spending much money on clothes: instead I seem strangely drawn to stationery. In the past week I’ve purchased calendars, planners, notecards, mousepads and other pads, and lots and lots of folders. I’m concerned that this is the administrative side of me taking over, now that I’ve been department chair for a year, and hope that my materialistic side reasserts itself when my term is over. And looking at the array of paper spread out before me, one thing is patently obvious: there are a lot of queens. Apparently mere mundane paper products are not enough for me; I must have royalty.
Just a few of my purchases:
Queen Elizabeth I and Marie Antoinette notebooks from SHHH My Darling.
Queen Elizabeth I and Marie Antoinette note cards by Rifle Paper Co.
Post-marked Photo Album from Campbell Raw Press.
And a reorder of a perennial favorite, Alexa Pulitzer‘s Royal Elephant mousepad (although I think he’s a king).
I suppose it is time to stop obsessing about a now-roofless historic Salem house and redirect my attention to those with lovingly preserved roofs, in these cases, gambrel: all around me it seems as if Georgians are for sale. Here are three, two just around the corner from our house and one two streets over. The Salem real estate market seems very hot; I don’t expect them to last long. 40 Summer Street, which abuts our property in the back, was built in 1762 for one proverbial Salem ship captain, Thomas Eden. There are lots of great photographs of its interior in the listing, but if you want to see more, it is very prominently featured in one of my very favorite books, Samuel Chamberlain’s Salem Interiors (1950). When searching for photographs of the long-lost McIntire South Church which was situated across the street from my house, I found one which also included the Captain Eden House (then owned and occupied by the Browne family) in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard: this black and white photograph of Summer Street dates from the 1890s.
Just a few doors down is 12 Broad Street, one of my very favorite houses in Salem. If I didn’t have a husband who wanted to go newer rather than older (why do architects always like boring bungalows?) then I would snap this house up myself. Its official plaque date is 1767 but I think that reflects a significant addition built on to a much older 17th century structure. The Neal House has seen a lot: World Wars, Civil War, Revolutionary War, French and Indian War, maybe even Witch Trials.
105 Federal Street, on the other side of the McIntire Historic District, was built a bit after the Georgian colonial era but it certainly looks the part with its gambrel roof. It’s a charming little house, situated with its side to the street and with a sheltered courtyard garden out back. This house is now painted a very nice gray-green color, but for much of the nineteenth century it was known as the “red house”.
The last week of July was full of contrasts and transitions for me: we spent most of it in York Harbor, but I traveled back every other day for my evening class, we left for Maine on a dark rainy day in which a tornado swept down in a town just to the south of Salem (very unusual for Massachusetts) and enjoyed clear sunny days thereafter, the late-summer flowers are of course also a study in contrasting color. For the most part, we’ve been so fortunate this summer to have beautiful weather: often sunny, never too hot, with rain occurring often enough to keep everything green. I hope this continues throughout August but the dog days do threaten……anyway, here are my favorite photographs from the week, mostly of gardens and flowers. I have included a photograph of the best ice cream stand in the world, Brown’s in York Beach, my father’s prized Swiss chard, and the gardens at Stonewall Kitchen’s company store in York, which are always inspiring–even the vegetables look beautiful (actually my father’s Swiss chard looks pretty good too). There are “soft” spots in nearly every picture so I apologize in advance: my camera lens got a bit smudgy when I was trying to take the first picture in the rain, and I never noticed until just this morning.